First Person: The long way home

I found myself frustrated and angered that, in what was at first only light snowfall, the capital had ground to a halt.

Snowy Jerusalem 370 (photo credit: Ilan Evyatar)
Snowy Jerusalem 370
(photo credit: Ilan Evyatar)
Like thousands of others, I found myself stranded Thursday night at the exit to Jerusalem trying to make my way home as the snow began to fall, and, like thousands of others, I found myself frustrated and angered that, in what was at first only light snowfall, the capital had ground to a halt.
At 8:15 p.m., after hastily getting together the Friday paper, I decided it was now or never if I wanted to leave The Jerusalem Post’s offices on Jaffa Road and get home to Mevaseret Zion on the outskirts of the city. Police had yet to announce that the main roads out were closed, so when I hit heavy traffic under the Bridge of Strings there was no way to expect the night that lay ahead. A few hundred meters later, traffic hit a standstill.
The snow began to fall heavily and after being stuck for over an hour, it sunk in that I wouldn’t be going anywhere. It was then that the radio announced that the roads were closed, but until when? Drivers were standing outside of their cars and rumors were spreading hard and fast. “The snow is going to pile up a meter high,” said one driver; “the roads are going to be closed until after Shabbat,” added another.”
I walked down to the next junction, about 300 meters away, and, pulling my press credentials, talked to the officer in charge. He confirmed that, for now, the roads would be closed until 6 the following morning.
But why aren’t you clearing the road running the opposite way so that people can head back into town, I asked, “Can’t you see we are trying,” he replied.
Indeed, one lone snowplow was going back and forth, but police weren’t letting people through.
It was back to the car to warm up and then back on the street to exchange impressions with other stranded drivers. The star of the conversations was Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who will probably yet regret his press conference three days earlier when, posing in front of a snowplow and throwing a handful of salt, he announced that the municipality was ready to keep roads open in the coming storm.
Frustration was growing and turning into anger. Cold and hungry, people wanted to know why there wasn’t a policeman in sight to tell them what was going on, why the traffic wasn’t being directed back into town, why the road wasn’t gritted, why no one was handing out food and hot drinks.
I called into work; other people from out of town were also stuck, management was trying to find hotel rooms for us.
Almost three hours had passed now and the snow was piling up heavily. Some people had already abandoned their cars.
The driver in front of me asked me and the driver beside me to back up. “If we can get to the junction, we can turn around,” he said. I followed his lead and turned back into Jerusalem.
The snow was thick on the ground and not everyone was making it through. From nowhere, a group of haredi men surrounded my car and pushed me through an icy trough. I had trained in driving in extreme terrain during my military service, but nothing could prepare me for this. I managed to get behind a snowplow and make it up the hill past the Jerusalem International Convention Center (Binyanei Ha’uma).
The office called in and told me they had found rooms at a small hotel on Jaffa Road. The road left onto Jaffa was blocked so I headed straight toward the Mahaneh Yehuda market.
Seeing the iconic Sima steakhouse open on my left and a parking spot on my right, I decided to pull up.
”Thank God somebody can be relied on to work under all weather conditions,” I said to the grillman at Sima, and armed with a steak in a pita and a bag of fries headed on foot to the Avital hotel on Jaffa, where three rooms were waiting me and the other out-oftown staff.
Or were they? “Three rooms for The Jerusalem Post, nobody spoke to me,” says the receptionist. Price gouging or an honest misunderstanding, hard to say. I inform my colleagues there are no rooms at the Avital. After a few minutes they call me back to say there are rooms at a hostel near Davidka Square and instruct me to wait at the light rail station outside the Avital.
The electronic signboard reads “Due to weather conditions, service may be delayed.”
The streets are full of Thursday night revelers pouring out of the bars in the market, groups of haredim enjoying the snow and people just trying to get home. Three off-duty soldiers waiting with me at the station are trying to negotiate a price for a four-wheel drive to come and pick them up. It’s five of midnight and the last train is due. Trains are supposed to run all night to keep the tracks open, but a girl says she has been waiting an hour and walks off.
Post Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde turns up at the station leading a march of staffers walking home and those looking for a place to stay. We trundle off down Jaffa and head to the Avraham Hostel where there are rooms and a warm welcome, but the heating isn’t working. I decide that rather than freeze, I’ll walk to my mother’s apartment in the Talpiot neighborhood.
Outside, it’s a full-force blizzard, and I catch up with Steve and our Settlements Correspondent Tovah Lazaroff and we begin the long march home.
We split up by Paris Square and I continue down Hebron Road.
Walking against the wind with the snow hitting hard I am soaked to the bone and frozen by the time I arrive. I take a hot shower to thaw out and recover with a cup of tea and brandy.
In the morning, I wake up to the news that my wife and kids are stuck at home with no electricity and no heating. I need to get home.
Management has managed to procure a four-wheel drive to get stranded staffers home in time for Shabbat. With the main route out of the city still closed, Mahmoud, our driver, takes the long route out by the French Hill neigborhood and through the snow-clad hills, manages to get me to the entrance to Mevaseret.
But it isn’t over, Mahmoud says that’s as far as he is willing to go. He won’t risk the side streets. Having managed to dry out from the previous nights escapades, I’m now walking the final mile knee-deep in snow and icy water.
Finally I’m home, but there is one more leg to go. The storm is about to start again and if we stay we face Shabbat with no electricity and with an all-electric house we won’t be able to cook. We quickly pack our bags and cram into the car to head to my wife’s parents on the other side of Mevaseret where the electricity is working.
Even getting out of the house is a challenge; if we can make it out of the side streets onto the main road we should be fine.
Everything is going smoothly until a car in front of us is stuck and slides backward, forcing us to reverse. We are stuck and blocking traffic. Someone has a shovel, people get out of their cars to help, but the car won’t budge. Then somehow, when all seems lost and we are faced with walking back with three small children, we are out.
We arrive at my in-laws, the Shabbat meal is on the stove.
Shabbat shalom! The writer is news editor of The Jerusalem Post. This article was written in the dark. As of press time on Saturday night, there was no electricity in all of Mevaseret.